Abdullah Snobar: Owning Canada’s Greatness (A Lesson from OVO)

By Abdullah Snobar

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As we progress through the year, it’s time for all of us to wake up and shift from defensive mode to offensive. Being Canadian holds power on the world stage, and it’s time we own it.  


Our reputation cannot be boiled down to merely being friendly, polite, and humble. We’re failing to see that we’re much more than the stereotype when, across the board, our reputation in business, branding, and culture is making its mark. 


The world is at our fingertips; all we need to do is aggressively embrace our identity as a force of excellence.


Taking pride in our Canadian roots


We’ve hit a turning point as a country, and now is not the time to be humble about it. 


Over the last decade, we’ve seen our startup and innovation ecosystem gain global recognition, a cultural reawakening in Canadian music and entertainment, and the emergence of legacy brands that have international acclaim. Canada can hold its own, so why do we struggle to shout it from the rooftops?


LISTEN: Does Canada Have An Identity Problem feat. Jay Baruchel


It’s not part of our DNA to show off our accomplishments. And while humility is noble, it’s also a killer of success. A brand that I look up to that does not hold back when it comes to wearing its Canadian roots on its sleeve is October’s Very Own (OVO).


A lifestyle company that designs and produces art, music, and clothing, the entire brand is built on its love for Toronto. They are relentless when it comes to championing where they come from at every chance they get. 


Their reputation extends far beyond their businesses; they’ve expanded how people locally and globally think of Canada and have mastered the art of the FOMO (fear of missing out) effect. Whether it’s tickets for OVO Fest or a new product drop, people will do whatever it takes to get their hands on whatever they’re selling. 


Putting more Canadian companies on the map


Oliver El-Khatib, one of the forces behind OVO as its co-Founder and CEO, proudly insists that owning their Canadian identity has been key to getting them to the top.


Their commitment to the Canadian brand is unmatched, making sure that our culture and lived experiences scream through their music and apparel. From mentoring young Canadian rappers to referencing Toronto culture in lyrics and flaunting iconic city landmarks in their album art, OVO seizes every opportunity to showcase its roots.


“It’s more important to be here, doing it our way, with our own POV; that’s what sets us apart. Being everybody else is taken, so you’ve got to be yourself. Our company is Canadian, we’ve got to honour that,” said El-Khatib.


We need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable; we have a strong reputation and can now command confidence and assertiveness. This is the only way we’ll be able to create more standout global companies like OVO. 

Oliver El-Khatib looking stoic into the camera. He is wearing a white button-up shirt with a grey tie and navy blue pants. He is seated in a director's chair against a beige background.

Pushing through the fear 


We need to take a hard look in the mirror and recognize that Canada has everything it needs to be the best of the best—we just need to get over ourselves. 


Entrepreneurship is not only about creating new products, it’s about resilience, hustle, and facing challenges head-on. We need to get over our fear of failure and recognize that part of the journey is facing uncertainty and learning how to work through it.  


El-Khatib said, “I try to always remember that where your fear lies is where your task lies. Anything that scares you is often something that you need to reconcile, so I welcome that feeling.” 


I couldn’t have said it better, myself. If you’re building a new business and it doesn’t scare you, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. 


So, here’s to the year when Canada unleashes its potential unashamedly. By relentlessly owning our identity, we can create a legacy of excellence. 


The game is set, and Canada is ready to own it. 


Abdullah Snobar is the Executive Director of DMZ and CEO of DMZ Ventutres.